Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Sunday Salon: Reading Jane Austen's "Emma"

I'm happy to say that I got a bit more reading done today than I did last Sunday – even though the day was beautiful and sunny, and the outdoors beckoned. However, once I got out there, a wintry wind came screaming through the parking lot and nearly whipped me off my feet. So as soon as all the grocery-buying was done with, it was back home to curl up with a good book (locked away from the front room where M was scarfing down popcorn and watching Houston cream the Lakers).

Must confess I haven't done any reading for the last day or two – since plowing through Love in the Time of Cholera the other night. I needed a bit of a break after that marathon. But finishing that one marked the conclusion of my first online reading challenge (the Winter Reading Challenge, hosted by Karlene over at InkSplasher), and I was determined to get all my chosen books read on time. I'm nothing if not obsessive-compulsive.

So it was nice to be able to devote a little time to Emma Woodhouse this afternoon. I've started Emma several times in the past, and always given up on it before I got too far along. It's not that I find the book boring or too difficult. No, it's the character of Emma herself that's always stopped me. I just get too irritated with her to keep reading. By the time she's "taken up" Harriet Smith, I'm usually saying "that's enough of that." Obviously, I've never gotten very far into the story.

But I've made up my mind to finish the book this time, irritating heroine or no. Besides, in my reading today I found something that made me realize Emma and I have a lot more in common than just being irritating types. She was a list-maker! This is Mr. Knightley complaining about Emma to Mrs. Weston when Mrs. W. tells him Emma means to use her new friendship with Harriet to induce them both to read more:

Emma has been meaning to read more ever since she was twelve years old. I have seen a great many lists of her drawing up at various times of books that she meant to read regularly through – and very good lists they were – very well chosen, and very neatly arranged – sometimes alphabetically, and sometimes by some other rule. The list she drew up when only fourteen – I remember thinking it did her judgment so much credit, that I preserved it some time; and I dare say she may have made out a very good list now. . . .

Yes, I know all about making lists of to-be-read books that somehow never get read. And my lists are always wonderfully elaborate masterpieces of enumeration – sometimes even alphabetical!

I'm so glad to have found this common bond. And although I don't really know much about Jane herself yet, I'm hoping to find out that Miss Austen was a keen list-maker, too.


  1. Oh 'Emma'! It was one of my set books for 'A' level and it became a standing joke in our house, because it took me an entire year to read. Mind you, in my case I'm sure it was to do with the woman who taught us. Having been a teacher myself for many years now I know just how culpable we can be when students have problems with texts. Keep going though. When I went back to the book, years later, I really enjoyed it.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement. I'm also really enjoying 'Emma' this time around. Makes me realize how many books I should probably go back and take a second (or third) look at, now that I'm older and wiser.


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